Developing a research question and clear objectives are essential first steps to obtaining the information required for evidence-based conservation.

This electronic Toolkit is designed as a question-driven platform: to help you refine your research questions and identify the most appropriate techniques and tools to answer them.

Familiarize yourself with your topic of interest

  • Always start with a background search  of the published literature to identify the materials relevant to your research question.
  • Your search should include the “grey” literature, such as unpublished, internal government or other organisation reports, and student theses.
  • When you have mastered this literature, you should refine your knowledge through discussions with:
    (1) experts in your targeted field of research, and
    (2) members of the local communities who can provide invaluable insights.

Techniques versus tools

This Toolkit will help you refine your research questions and provide you with a list of recommended techniques and tools to answer them.

  • A technique is the procedure for undertaking the work.
  • A tool is an implement used to carry out a particular technique.

For example, if you decide to conduct aerial surveys to investigate the distribution of dugongs in your area of interest, the aerial survey would be the ‘technique’.

Fixed wing aircraft, helicopters or unmanned aerial vehicles –commonly called drones – (e.g. unmanned fixed wing, multirotor or hybrid drones) are possible ‘tools’ to implement this technique. The most appropriate tool will depend on your research question, budget and local situation.

Other key considerations

  • Ethics: Research activities must be conducted in accordance with local institutional policy, relevant legislation and be approved by an appropriate institutional Ethics Committee (AEC). Consultation with and seeking approval from local communities is also critical to the success of a research project.
  • Timeline: Estimating the time required to conduct a project is essential to evaluating its  feasibility.  Consider the overall amount of time available to complete your project and estimate how long it will take you to complete each stage. Allow for contingencies and inevitable delays. A good rule is to estimate the time you will need and double it.
  • Budget: The budget required to conduct a research project depends on its design, the techniques and tools you plan to use and the expertise required to use them. There are often several techniques available. Choose the technique most appropriate to the capacity available.
  • Expertise: Ensure that you have the expertise required to conduct all stages of your project: project design, securing funding, data collection, data analysis and interpretation and report writing. Remember there is no point in collecting data if you don’t use it to achieve the objective of your research.